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A dark drama, ‘Agnes of God’ asks deep questions

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – For her first play as part of the theater department at Bethel College, Megan Upton-Tyner has chosen to direct a deceptively small work.

Agnes of God, with parts for only three actresses, will be on the stage of Krehbiel Auditorium in the Fine Arts Center Thursday, Nov. 18, and Friday, Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m., and for a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Nov. 20. Tickets are on sale at Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center or at the door.

Agnes of God, a play by John Pielmeier, features Justine Erb, senior from Henderson, Neb., in the title role of Agnes, a young, cloistered, novice nun who gives birth and insists that the dead child was the result of a virgin conception. The title is a pun on the Latin phrase Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).

During the resulting investigation of the baby’s death, a psychiatrist, Dr. Martha Livingstone, played by Sara Volweider, junior from Haven, clashes with the convent’s Mother Superior, played by Audra Miller, sophomore from Hesston.

The play was adapted into a movie in 1985, starring Meg Tilly as Agnes, Jane Fonda as Dr. Livingstone and Anne Bancroft as the Mother Superior.

“It’s an intense drama,” said Upton-Tyner, who began this year as instructor of theater at Bethel. “It asks really great theological, philosophical, moral and scientific questions, but it’s dark.”

Audra Miller has been acting since high school but says this is the first time she has done “an actual ‘thinking’ play that’s very serious and intense.

“There’s a lot of responsibility with just three [actresses], to have to keep up the intensity for an hour and a half.” It’s particularly challenging, she says, “[to try] not to peak emotionally in practice but to try and build each time, so by the time we get to performance, we’re where we need to be. You need to take risks, but not get out of control.”

Miller says mature audiences should see Agnes of God (it is rated PG-13 because of adult subject matter and language, and is not recommended for children) because “it’s good to be forced to deal with so many different beliefs and opinions thrown at you. It’s real, it’s live, it’s right there on the stage next to you.” Seating will be by general admission and on the stage, very close to the action.

“I chose Agnes of God because of the characters,” Upton-Tyner said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for the student actresses. From my observation of other Bethel productions, I knew they had the talent and depth of acting ability.”

Clint Harris, senior from Manhattan, is the stage manager, with Nathan Dick, senior from Baldwin City, as stage crew. Lighting is by Jocelyn Wilkinson, freshman from San Antonio, Texas, with Micah Smith, freshman from Topeka, serving as lighting crew.

Tickets for Agnes of God are $10 for adults and $8 for adults 65 and older and non-Bethel students and are available at Thresher Bookstore, open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., or phone 316-284-5205.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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